Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1; 78 S. Ct. 1401; 3 L. Ed. 2d 5 (1958)
Facts—After the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) ruling that de jure racial segregation violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the school board and superintendent of schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, made plans to comply, beginning by desegregating grades 10 to 12. Arkansas governor Orval Faubus obstructed such plans by calling out the National Guard to stop nine African American students from entering the school. After the U.S. District Court issued an injunction against this action, the troops were withdrawn, but black children were later removed when unruly crowds formed outside the school, eventually leading President Eisenhower to dispatch federal troops to restore order. The school board subsequently asked for a delay of further desegregation efforts. A U.S. District Court granted this request, but the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed.
Questions—(a) Does a state have authority to defy orders of the U.S. courts?
(b) Should the courts give the school board extra time to comply with court orders when other state actors generate opposition to its policies?
Reasons—C.J. Warren (9–0). In an unusual move, the Court listed the name of each justice at the beginning of the opinion. The Court ruled that “The constitutional rights of respondents are not to be sacrificed or yielded to the violence and disorder which have followed upon the actions of the Governor and Legislature.” The equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment forbids state-approved racial segregation. Article VI recognizes the U.S. Constitution “the ‘supreme Law of the Land,’ and it is the duty of the courts to uphold the law.” In what many scholars consider to be one of the Court’s broadest assertions of power, it asserted that “the federal judiciary is supreme in its exposition of the Law of the Constitution,” and its decision in Brown v. Board is thus controlling. The Court further noted that its opinion in Brown had been unanimous and that the three justices who had been appointed since that decision also supported it.
J. Frankfurter authored a concurring opinion in which he argued that to yield to the actions the governor had precipitated would be “to enthrone official lawlessness and lawlessness if not checked is the precursor of anarchy.”